Decision Number 236
Request of Council of Bishops for a Declaratory Decision as to the Application of Paragraphs 445 and 559.2 to the Status and Retirement Rights of Dionisio D. Alejandro, Former Bishop of the Philippines Central Conference.
Dionisio D. Alejandro, having been elected in 1960 to a four-year term as bishop in the Philippines Central Conference, completed that term of office at the close of the 1964 session of the Philippines Central Conference and returned as an elder to the Annual Conference of which he ceased to be a member when elected bishop. There is no provision by which he may be elected to continue in office as a retired bishop.
Statement of Facts
Under date of May 31, 1965, Amado R. Castro, Chairman of the Board of Pensions of the Middle Philippines Annual Conference, wrote the President of the Council of Bishops of The Methodist Church inquiring as to the appropriate retirement status of D. D. Alejandro who had served two four-year terms as a bishop in the Philippines Central Conference and who had retired at the conclusion of his second term.
The matter was referred by the Council of Bishops to its Committee on Law and Administration which brought in a report reading in part as follows:
". . . concerning the retirement status and rights of D. D. Alejandro, a former bishop of the Philippines Conference, elected for two terms, the first January 1944 to November 1948 and the second November 1960 to November 1964. . . .
"We do request of the Judicial Council that the Council state the meaning of Paragraphs 445 and 559, Section 2, in a declaratory decision, without prejudice.
"We further request that Mr. Clarkson W. Loucks prepare the appeal to the Judicial Council."
This recommendation was approved by the Council of Bishops on November 18, 1965, and forwarded by Bishop Roy H. Short, Secretary, to the Judicial Council together with the letter of Amado Castro which reads in part:
"There is no doubt that all these [evidences cited in the letter] show and prove that the Philippines Central Conference elects its own bishop or bishops for four years. On the light of these facts and historical evidence, D . D. Alejandro was elected bishop each time for four years and never for life." The petition for declaratory decision from the Council of Bishops filed under date of February 7, 1966, requested that the Judicial Council:
"(a) construe Paragraph 445. and subparagraph 2. of Paragraph 559. of the 1964 Discipline, and adjudge and declare that a former effective bishop of the Philippines Central Conference . . . shall be returned to membership as a traveling elder in the Annual Conference (or its successor) of which he ceased to be a member when elected bishop, and shall cease to be a bishop of The Methodist Church for any purpose whatsoever;
" (b) adjudicate and declare that continuing office tenure is essential to retirement status as a bishop of The Methodist Church;
" (c) adjudicate and declare that within limitations imposed by subparagraph 5. of Paragraph 1804. of the 1964 Discipline, it is within the power of the Philippines Central Conference, if it so desires, to grant life tenure to any former or effective quadrennial term bishop of such conference, at any time before or after his last term of office expires;
"(d) adjudicate and declare that if a former effective quadrennial term bishop of the Philippines Central Conference is subsequently granted life tenure as a bishop of The Methodist Church by his conference, after the time his compulsory retirement as an incumbent of such office with unexpired tenure would otherwise have arrived, then, and contemporaneously with the consecration of any such bishop, he shall acquire the status and rights of a life term bishop of The Methodist Church, in retirement, with such pension benefits as may accrue to retired bishops of his Central Conference; and
"(e) declare that the ruling of the Judicial Council herein is without prejudice as to all former bishops of The Methodist Church (who have reached compulsory retirement age during their last term of office as bishop), their wives or widows, and the dependent children of such bishops."
Dionisio D. Alejandro, under date of March 29, 1966, wrote a letter to the Judicial Council in which he expressed his conviction that he should be classified as a retired bishop.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision on this matter under Paragraph 914 of the 1964 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
This petition requires an interpretation and application of Paragraphs 445, 559.2 and 1804.5 of the 1964 Discipline.
The Philippines Central Conference had and has unquestioned power to choose between electing bishops for a term of years and electing them with life tenure. (Paragraphs 20, 401, and 1629 of the 1940 Discipline; Paragraphs 441, 445 and 558 of the 1964 Discipline.) The record shows that the Philippines Central Conference has from 1940 to the present consistently elected its bishops for quadrennial terms.
When a minister elected to the episcopacy for a limited period of years completes that term of office, he is returned to membership in the Annual Conference of which he ceased to be a member when he was elected. (Paragraphs 445 and 559.2 of the 1964 Discipline. See also Judicial Council Decisions 4, 61 and 199.)
We believe that the petition presents two fundamental questions:
1. If the term of office of a minister elected to a four-year term as bishop expires with or after the date when due to age his eligibility for reelection to the episcopacy ceases according to the rules established by the Central Conference, does he retire as a bishop with the same rights as a bishop who was elected with life tenure?
2. Does a Central Conference where term episcopacy prevails have the right to elect a former bishop to life tenure as a retired bishop?
Question 1 is unequivocally and correctly answered by counsel for the Council of Bishops in the following words:
"There is no justifiable reason why bishops whose short terms of office expire, per se, but contemporaneously with a time for compulsory retirement if they had longer tenure, should be favored over bishops whose specified terms of office are identical, but expire prior to any such compulsory time of retirement. In either case, such perishable terms of office will end, and no portion will remain from which retirement is possible."
The plain language of the Disciplinary paragraphs supports this interpretation and is in harmony with Judicial Council Decision No. 199. D. D. Alejandro, therefore, completed his term of office and became a member as a traveling elder of the Annual Conference of which he had ceased to be a member when he was elected bishop.
The final question is: Does a Central Conference have the power to elect aformer bishop to the status of a retired life-term bishop?
Paragraph 1804.5 reads:
"The Philippines Central Conference is authorized to elect two bishops for that Central Conference, provided that by such election there shall not be more than two effective bishops resident in the field at any one time during the quadrennium."
The intent of this enabling act is clear. Permission is granted to have two but not more than two bishops in the effective relationship at any one time. No permission is granted here or elsewhere to elect former bishops to the status of a bishop in retirement. It would have been within the power of the Philippines Central Conference, which met after the 1964 General Conference (or similarly in 1960), to have revised its tenure provision to change from limited-term to life-tenure episcopacy before proceeding to the election of bishops. The legislation of the General Conference did not foreclose the possibility of the Central Conference changing to a life-tenure rule. It simply stipulated the Conference should not have more than two effective bishops.
The essence of "term episcopacy" is that on completion of the term of office the incumbent ceases to occupy that office. A bishop, even though he reaches the age of compulsory retirement concurrently with the completion of the term of office, ceases to be a bishop and returns to the status of a member of the Annual Conference (Paragraph 445). If a man is elected to the episcopacy under the life-tenure rule. then his term as bishop continues until death, even though he be retired from actual administration when he reaches the mandatory age for retirement from the episcopacy or for other reasons he be retired at an earlier age. (Paragraphs 436.3 and 436.4.)
Throughout the Constitution and legislation of the General Conference, it is apparent that ministers are elected to the episcopacy to fulfill episcopal functions. Retirement status is granted within the office of the episcopacy provided life tenure was specified prior to the election. There is no legislative provision to elect persons to a retired episcopal relation. Provision is specifically made, under Paragraph 559.2 of the 1964 Discipline, for a retirement allowance to be paid from the General Episcopal Fund for "a minister who has served a term, or part of a term, as a bishop in Central Conference where term episcopacy has prevailed . . ." This by implication assumes that a bishop who has served in the limited-term episcopacy does not on retirement continue in the office of bishop. It also assumes that a limited-term bishop will not be elected to a life-tenure status after he reaches retirement, thereby having a claim for full episcopal retirement benefits.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the four-year term of episcopacy to which Dionisio D. Alejandro was elected in November 1960 expired at the close of the 1964 session of the Philippines Central Conference. At that time he again became a member of the Annual Conference of which he had ceased to be a member when he was elected to the episcopacy. The fact of his age is, in this connection, immaterial.
The Philippines Central Conference does not have the power to grant life tenure to a man who is in the retired relation even though he may have been a bishop for a term of years. The tenure provision must be clearly stated before the election occurs.
We do not grant relief sought under Paragraph (e) of the prayer of the petition of the Council of Bishops beyond that stated above.